Saturday, March 13, 2010

Common Confusables: Preventative & Preventive

In healthcare we’re always talking about preventing illness and accidents. The magazine Prevention focuses on steps people can take to prevent illness and accidents.

But when it comes to preventive and preventative or, heaven help us, preventatativeness, we get into trouble.

Does preventative mean the same as preventive? Or is there a difference?

Yes, and yes.

Okay, here’s the deal.

You’ll hear from some folks that preventive is an adjective, as in “preventive medicine,” and that preventative is a noun, as in, “The herb is a preventative.” Those folks may cite the use of preventative as a noun and preventive as an adjective since the 17th century, and they would be correct.

Another group of folks insist that the terms possess identical meanings and can be used interchangeably. They as well would be correct.

Language is constantly evolving, and this is one of those evolutionary instances. When the experts can’t agree, as in this particular case, then the meanings are so close as to be essentially non-existent and the usage so mixed that no clear “winner” emerges.

So use whichever one you like. If someone calls you on it, believe me, you’ll find more than enough experts backing up your choice.

For me, I like preventive. I like how it sounds. To me it seems a bit more medical than preventative.

But that’s just me.